News

1. Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes

Tim Bousquet wrote this item.

This map of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park is in the city’s 2006 regional plan.

“Environmentalists who celebrated extra cash in last year’s municipal budget for park land protection are worried a reduced budget for next year means the city is again forgetting about Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes,” reports Zane Woodford:

Halifax regional council is working on the capital and operating budgets for the year ahead, meeting weekly over the next few months. The 2019-2020 capital budget included $7 million for park land acquisition. For 2020-2021, that line item is just $500,000.

“It’s surprising, it’s disappointing, it’s disheartening,” said Raymond Plourde, wilderness co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre.

“We see an incredibly unambitious park land acquisition fund this year, a pittance of what we were told we would see in the coming years.”

But Plourde worries council is distracted with another reserve withdrawal — $20 million for a CFL stadium.

“All that air seems to have gone out of the tires since this stadium thing has become the shiny bobble that seems to have attracted their attention and, worse, our taxpayer money,” Plourde said.

Click here to read “Budget cut has environmentalists worried Halifax is forgetting about Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes.”

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This marks Zane Woodford’s first article in the Halifax Examiner, and the first since he was laid off from Star Halifax last month. We at the Examiner are seeing what we can do in terms of future employment opportunities for Woodford. I’ll update you on that as we move forward.

Relatedly, the city has appealed a November court decision by Justice James Chipman, who ruled that the city effectively expropriated land owned by the Annapolis Group in the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lake area. Chipman agreed with the Annapolis Group’s argument that the city created a “conceptional plan” for the park but did not actually designate the property as parkland in order to avoid having to purchase it outright, as the city charter requires. A hearing for the city’s appeal will be scheduled later this month.

2. Laker and Enfield Weekly Press shut down

Yesterday, Advocate Media announced it was ceasing publication of two community papers, the Weekly Press and the Laker, serving East Hants and Fall River. (Disclosure: I regularly contribute to Advocate publications.)

Many of us heard about this yesterday from the seemingly indefatigable Pat Healey, who posted the following on Twitter:

In announcing the closure on the publications’ websites, Advocate Media says:

The areas covered by The Weekly Press and The Laker have become more a part of the Metro Halifax trading region. As the local business base has continued to shift to major national retailers and businesses, the desire for local targeted advertising has diminished… With thousands of avid, online readers, our shift from the area provides opportunity for others to consider new models for the efficient delivery of local news.

I have great respect and admiration for people working for community publications. I’ve never done it myself (though I’ve written the odd community paper freelance piece), but I appreciate the work that goes into covering day-to-day life, budgets, council, and human interest stories on a local level, often on a shoestring, while keeping stories fresh and interesting.

3. More than just beach glass

Smash these up, give them a few decades, and they’ll make fine beach glass. Photo: Stephen Archibald

Inverness Beach has long been known as a great spot to collect beach glass. It’s plentiful and beautifully worn down. Now, some less welcome items are washing ashore.

Tom Ayers writes for CBC that erosion is damaging the now-closed nearby dump, causing items like rusty car parts to turn up on the beach.

“I think the dump was traditionally right along the shore, but maybe it’s just eroded that fast, back now into some more substantial materials,” said [Councillor Jim] Mustard.

“Historically, I think that’s where the beach glass came from … which is a great tourist attraction, but now we’re finding the storms are of greater magnitude and they’re just eroding more of the bank away and what’s showing up is big chunks of old car parts and metal.”

Municipal officials say it’s not clear when the dump closed, because it was never owned by the county. It was likely part of the former coal mine in the area.

4. Hot idle, hot mess?

Northern Pulp Mill at night. Photo courtesy of Tony DeCoste Photo-Video

At CTV, Bruce Frisko has a story on the possibility that the Northern Pulp mill could run on “hot idle” after it ceases operation at the end of the month.

[The province] has also appointed a team, including the president of Elmsdale Lumber, who says the company is considering putting Northern Pulp into “hot idle” mode—keeping water circulating through the pipes, even after it’s shut down.

“So, in the Northern Pulp plant, there’s literally hundreds of miles of pipe,” said Robin Wilbur, the president of Elmsdale Lumber. “I don’t think they have time to drain them all, so it’s an attempt to save the asset.”

But the province says it hasn’t received any proposal to do this, and the Pictou Landing First Nation doesn’t know anything about it either.

“As far as I am aware no notice to consult has been issued in respect of a request by Northern Pulp to the Province to allow it to discharge any amount of wastewater into Boat Harbour from the mill, even if it is wastewater used only in the power boiler or other non-pulping parts of the mill,” Chief Andrea Paul of Pictou Landing First Nation said in a statement.

5. Pathetic income assistance rate increases

Community services minister Kelly Regan

A CBC news story this morning looks at the impact (or lack of impact) of the very slightly increased rates of income assistance paid by the province. The province has increased income assistance rates by two percent and five percent for those with disabilities.

Previously, a couple with two children qualified for a maximum of $1,170 in assistance per month. Now the same couple will qualify for $1,193, an increase of two per cent. This works out to $14,316 per year…

In 2018, the federal government released a national poverty reduction strategy that officially defined a “poverty line” in 50 regions around the country.

In Nova Scotia, that amount is defined as $35,256 to $39,430 for a family of two adults and two children, depending on where the family lives. For a single person living on their own, the poverty line is roughly half of that.

Yesterday, Maclean’s published a piece by one of my favourite feature writers, Shannon Proudfoot. It’s called “Can treating poverty change a child’s brain?” and looks at a US study to see if giving reloadable debit cards to families living in poverty can help affect the development of children’s brains.

Proudfoot writes:

If worsened life outcomes for poor kids are symptoms, and the experiences linked to poverty could be conceived of as the disease, then might it be most effective to take preventative action instead of seeking a cure after the fact?

Could an injection of cash for poor families provide some inoculation against the cascading effects of poverty?

[Neuroscientist and pediatrician Kimberly] Noble and an elite team of economists, social policy experts and neuroscientists are now a year and a half into an ambitious and potentially groundbreaking—but exquisitely simple—study examining exactly that. It is, in essence, the first clinical trial to test whether treating poverty itself might reshape the first three years of a child’s life, and what an intervention in that critical period of rapid growth could mean for their cognitive, emotional and brain development.

Part of me thinks this should not be that complicated. Poverty sucks. The fact that so many people are poor in a society that generates so much wealth is an abomination. We shouldn’t need to look for reasons to justify ending poverty. But we live in a world where simply fighting poverty is not a goal for those in power. They need to be shamed into it with evidence of the harm it causes children. This is not to criticize Noble or her team, who clearly have their hearts in the right place. As Proudfoot writes:

People are often more comfortable giving services to people in need rather than cash because of stereotypes that poor people are more likely to spend money in wasteful ways, Noble observes, but the evidence simply doesn’t bear that out.

And this is where our collective notions of money, luck and life circumstances get very quickly existential. “When you think about the haves versus the have-nots, the haves think that they earned it and that the have-nots earned not having anything,” Noble says. “While there is probably some basis to truth in there, I think people really discount the extent to which fortune or misfortune is not always due to our own actions.”


Views

1. Vibert on Owl’s Head

Owls Head provincial park. Map: Province of NS

In the Chronicle Herald, Jim Vibert weighs in on the secret delisting of Owl’s Head as a protected area.

As you may recall, it was only thanks to reporting by the CBC’s Michael Gorman that we learned the province may be preparing to sell the land to an American couple who want to develop it as part of a proposed three-golf-course complex.

It’s one thing to argue land should not be protected. It’s another to silently remove protection. Vibert notes that the land was listed as a provincial park on a provincial government website, but that the province says that was an administrative error.

With visions of well-heeled golfers dancing in their heads, the Liberals suddenly saw the Crown parcel as a low priority for protection and “not considered to be … of high biodiversity value.” That’s different from the previous provincial characterization of Owls Head’s as a “unique coastal habitat and (home to) several species of conservation concern.” Maybe use of the word “unique” was an administrative error too, or perhaps the writer didn’t know that it means unlike anything else.

Either way, the publicly-owned property at Owls Head is off the list for protection and the way is clear for the province to consider Lighthouse Links’ golf course development.

They may be Americans, but the owners of Lighthouse Links understand Nova Scotia’s clannish political culture. They retained the services of Michel Samson to lobby on their behalf. Samson was a cabinet minister in McNeil’s government until the 2017 election, when the voters of Richmond County decided he should find other work. He did, at the law firm Cox & Palmer, and by August of 2018 he was registered as a lobbyist for Lighthouse Links.

Vibert also points out that the province’s goal of protecting 13 percent of the province is “modest” compared to national and international efforts to protect habitat.


Noticed

Photo: Philip Moscovitch

Yesterday, Alex Cooke reported for CBC that Église Sainte-Marie in Church Point may be demolished.

The 115-year-old building is the largest wooden church in North America, with a nearly 200-foot-tall steeple. But it needs repairs, and they are costly. Cooke writes:

André Valotaire, the parish co-ordinator and the president of the church’s museum committee, said Église Sainte-Marie hasn’t been used for regular services for three or four years because it’s impractical to heat.

Still, he said it holds a special place in the hearts of those who grew up in the surrounding Acadian community.

Valotaire said the bishop of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth has said that if the society fails to raise the money, the church will have to be demolished.

Valotaire said it would be a “very sad day for the community” if that happens.

You may recall that a few years ago Archbishop Anthony Mancini, who heads the Archdiocese of Halifax/Yarmouth opposed the heritage designation of Saint Patrick’s Church, on Brunswick Street in Halifax.

The group of volunteers trying to save the church have launched a 47-question survey aimed at getting opinions and ideas from the community. One of the questions asks how supportive respondents are of options including turning it into an Airbnb or a “brewery and retail operation/restaurant.”

I saw Katy Jean tweeting about the church, and asked for her thoughts. She is Catholic, and though she lives in Dartmouth she has family roots in Plympton, not far from Church Point. She told me that the first time she visited she was “just taken away by the church. It’s magnificent.”

She adds:

The essential meaning to me is not just it being a church; it’s that nobody has seen anything like it before. Literally. It is the highest wooden church in North America and the only wooden church of that style in the world, and we have it! We have this fantastic and unique building made with Nova Scotian hands for the Acadians. It’s incredible… It is a triumph. It is an example of the Acadians and Catholics rebuilding after disaster.

It’s easy to think of the Catholic Church as awash in cash, but on the local level, there’s not a whole lot of money. Halifax-Yarmouth is a single archdiocese, but the Halifax and Yarmouth dioceses continue to keep separate books. The 2018 financial statements don’t paint a particularly rosy picture.

Revenue for Yarmouth was just over $300,000, and collections accounted for less than $15,000 of that.

I’m not here to offer apologies for the Catholic Church. I’m just pointing out that locally there’s not a whole lot of money in the system. Over the last few years, the church in Nova Scotia has been consolidating, shutting down smaller churches and creating larger parishes. I live next door to a decommissioned Catholic Church, Saint Margaret of Scotland, in Glen Margaret.

St Margaret of Scotland. Photo: St. Margeurite Bourgeoys Parish.

It stands empty, with services now held at a new suburban church in Upper Tantallon.

St. Margeurite Bourgeoys church. Photo: St. Margeurite Bourgeoys Parish.

On the whole, we do a terrible job of preserving our built heritage. I told Jean that I found it frustrating that saving these architectural treasures falls to small groups of volunteers, but she had a different perspective:

I don’t think it’s a shame that we have volunteers. If there were no volunteers it would be proof we have nothing left fighting for. I’m far away and wish I could thank and congratulate everyone working to maintain the church. If my heart loves it so deeply, I can’t imagine how deep it is in their hearts.


Government

City

Tuesday

Special Budget Committee (Tuesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Wednesday

Special Events Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 9am, City Hall) — agenda here.

Audit and Finance Standing Committee (Wednesday, 10am, City Hall) — Here’s the agenda.

Province

Tuesday

Community Services (Tuesday, 10am, One Government Place) — affordable housing’s on the agenda. Committee page here.

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) —
Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal — Paul LaFleche, Deputy Minister
Nova Scotia Lands — Stephen MacIsaac, President and CEO
QEII New Generation Project – Halifax Infirmary Expansion and Community Outpatient Centre – December 2019 Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 2

Committee page here.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

IMPART: Embracing diversity in assessment: Assessors idiosyncrasies and the roles of culture (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 109, Burbidge Building) — Kyle John Wilby from the University of Otago, New Zealand, will talk.

Woodwinds masterclass (Tuesday, 5pm, Room 406, Dal Arts Centre) — with Sibylle Marquardt.


In the harbour

10:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
12:00: Augusta Sun, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba
20:30: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Baltimore
21:30: Atlantic Star sails for New York


Footnotes

Every year around this time I think we are going to escape winter, and then the snowstorms start rolling in.

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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